* London summer art sales could top $1 billion again
* Auction houses hope to inspire "uber-collectors"
* Star lots from Claude Monet and Jean-Michel Basquiat
By Paul Casciato
LONDON, June 8 Auctioneers are pinning their
hopes on "uber-collectors" to help London summer art sales top
last year's $1 billion total when the series kicks off later
Estimates from Christie's, Sotheby's and smaller
rivals such as Phillips and Bonhams for sales over the next few
weeks in the British capital show that the paintings, sculptures
and furniture under the hammer are on course to defy a sluggish
global economy again this year.
The top two houses have put more than $300 million worth of
their most expensive works up for sale on public show until June
11 at their London galleries in Mayfair, hoping pre-sale
exhibitions might inspire a bit of impulse-buying from serious
collectors making the London stop on the art trail.
"What we hope is that the rather more transitory
uber-collectors who are in London, Basel and Venice will come in
and see things that they wouldn't normally look at," deputy
chairman of Christie's Europe, Orlando Rock, told Reuters.
Christie's, the world's biggest auctioneers, has a star lot
that is a price-on-request (around $23 million) diptych by 20th
century American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a painting
from Russian Expressionist Wassily Kandinsky, which could set a
lifetime record for the artist if it sells north of $23 million.
Its top estimate is $24.86 million.
Nearest rival Sotheby's has French Impressionist Claude
Monet's "Le Palais Contarini" with a top estimate of $31 million
and paintings by 18th century Frenchman Claude-Joseph Vernet
($7.7 million) and British contemporary artist David Hockney
Continued weakness in a battered euro zone and slowing
Chinese economic growth have made investors wary in the last two
years, but high-end art sales have continued to break records.
New York has long been considered the global capital of the
auction world - most recent records have been set there.
This year's spring auctions were no different, ending on a
record-shattering high as Christie's May 15 post-war &
contemporary art sale achieved the highest total - $495 million
- in the history of art auctions.
None of the star London lots currently come near the $58.4
million paid at the Christie's sale in New York for U.S. artist
Jackson Pollock's "Number 19, 1948".
A closer look at the estimates from Christie's and Sotheby's
give a mixed picture of a London season that looks healthy but
may not blast the record books.
Estimates from Christie's of about $388 million for this
year are lower than sales of just under $600 million last year,
although the top estimate from Sotheby's for $562 million easily
eclipses last year's nearly $385 million.
Alongside the Old Masters, modern and fine art, auction
houses have mixed in precious objects such as a Georgian coffee
pot expected to become the most expensive piece of English
silver ever sold and a 15th century Virgil manuscript, as well
as collectibles like a watch worn by James Bond in "Thunderball"
and unreleased lyrics from singer Bob Dylan.
London, a natural fit for Russian tycoons who have homes in
the city and Middle Eastern buyers just a mid-haul flight away,
will offer sought-after sculptures from antiquities to Alberto
Giacometti, Henry Moore and Elisabeth Frink, as well as fine
Louis XIV furniture.
A jewelled automaton silkworm lurks near a pair of Louis XVI
vases among the 80 works chosen by Sotheby's for public display,
along with a 17th century El Greco painting and a 1927 piece
from Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
"This will be an exhibition that speaks to the catholic
taste of today's collectors as well as to everyone who loves
great works of art and enjoys the thrill of the unexpected,"
said Mario Tavella, Sotheby's deputy chairman for Europe.
Soaring prices for art at a time of global economic
uncertainty have long prompted warnings of a sharp correction
and even collapse, but time and again in the last four years the
market has defied the gloomiest predictions.
Chinese demand has weakened and tastes can be fickle, but
the very best works of art have generally risen in value since a
sharp but brief drop in auction turnover in 2009.
The only copy of Edvard Munch's seminal image "The Scream"
still in private hands came up for sale at Sotheby's in New York
After nearly 15 minutes of intense bidding, made in
million-dollar increments, it sold for $120 million including
commission, a new auction record for any work of art.
The two previous records were also recent - Pablo Picasso's
"Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" fetched $106.5 million in 2010,
having sold for $19,800 in 1951. In the same year Giacometti's
"Walking Man I" made $104.3 million.
Institutions have played a key role in the recovery, with
Qatar emerging as one of the biggest buyers of art in recent
years as it fills a growing network of museums.
According to widespread reports, the Gulf state paid $250
million for Paul Cezanne's "The Card Players" in a private deal
in 2011, which is believed to be the highest price ever paid for
a work of art.